How to Teach Easy Dog Tricks

Once you've mastered the tools to teach your dog easy tricks, you can teach him practically anything. Every dog should know a few basic commands: sit, down, stay and lie down. However, the tools you use to teach these tricks are also used to teach much more complex behaviors, such as teaching your dog to ring a bell when he wants to go outside or navigating a complex agility course. 

Clicker Training
Clicker training is the most popular training method used by proponents of positive reinforcement training. With clicker training, you press a small handheld device to produce a click at the precise moment your dog does the behavior you want. When you follow the click with an immediate food treat, your dog learns to associate the click as a marker for behavior that you desire. Once your dog is offering you the behavior consistently, you can label it and begin to ask for it by name.

Shaping Training
Shaping is a method that trainers use to teach dogs complex behaviors. When you're shaping a behavior, start by breaking a complex task down into easy-to-digest steps. For example, if you want to teach a nose touch, start by placing the target in front of your dog. Click for any movement towards the target. Click and reward if your dog even looks at the target. As your dog gets rewarded for interacting with the target, he'll pay more and more attention to it.

When the behavior gets closer to the one you want, stop rewarding for lesser behaviors; for example, stop clicking your dog for looking at the target if he has learned to move toward the target. Eventually, your dog will sniff the target. Click and reward for the sniff, and stop rewarding all other behaviors.

Once your dog is consistently offering the behavior you want, you can start labeling the behavior right as your dog offers it. Say "Touch" when his nose hits the target, and he'll figure out that "touch" is the word for this behavior. After 6-10 repetitions with the label, you can start asking for the behavior by name. If your dog consistently performs, he's learned the behavior. If your dog doesn't quite get it, go back to labeling the behavior as he performs it for another set of repetitions.

Teach Your Dog to Sit
Have the clicker ready, and hold a food treat near your dog's nose. When your dog notices the treat, move it up and slightly over his head, forcing him to tilt his head back to follow the treat. When his head goes up, his bottom should naturally go down. The moment your dog's rear end hits the ground, click to mark and give him the treat. After 4-6 repetitions, start labeling "sit" as your dog's hindquarters hit the ground. This is an invaluable command, and you can use it as an alternate behavior whenever your dog is doing something you don't want him to do, such as jumping.

Teach Your Dog to Lie Down
Start with your dog in a sit. Have the clicker ready, and hold a food treat near your dog's nose. This time, move the treat down toward the floor and slightly away from your dog. As your dog follows the treat, he should naturally lie down. When his chest hits the floor, click and give your dog the food treat. If he doesn't lie down, put him back in a sit and try again. Keep the training sessions short-no more than 5 minutes-and always end on a positive note to make things fun for both you and your dog. When your dog reliably hits the ground in pursuit of the treat, start labeling "down" or "lie down." Make sure you always use the same command to avoid confusing your dog.

Teach Your Dog to Stay
Once your dog has mastered sit or down, you've got the perfect tool to teach your dog to stay. Believe it or not, stay is one of the easiest things to teach your dog. Command your dog to "sit", and instead of rewarding him immediately, wait 5-10 seconds before you click and treat. If your dog remains sitting, increase the pause before you reward him. If your dog loses focus and gets up during the sit, reduce the interval before you reward him and start again. When your dog is reliable about waiting for 30+ seconds for you to click and reward, you can start labeling the behavior as "stay." If your dog gets up during a stay, reduce the interval and start again.

Take it on the Road
It's easy to teach your dog tricks in a quiet, calm environment. Once your dog learns a command, take the act on the road. If you have your dog sit on the carpet at home, have him practice on a concrete walkway outdoors, or a grassy area at the local park. You must practice commands with your dog in a variety of environments to let him know that "sit" always means put your butt on the floor; not just at home when no-one else is around.

As your dog becomes better in different environments, practice by adding distractions. Have him practice when another dog is around near a crowd of people or when a loud truck passes you. Every command is a tool you can use to teach additional behaviors. Once your dog has mastered them in a variety of places and with increasing distractions, you can be sure he'll perform reliably and begin working on more advanced behaviors.

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